Many doctors admit to crying at work, whether openly empathising with a patient or on their own behind closed doors. Common reasons for crying are compassion for a dying patient, identifying with a patient’s situation, or feeling overwhelmed by stress and emotion.
Probably still more doctors have done so but been unwilling to admit it for fear that it could be considered unprofessional—a sign of weakness, lack of control, or incompetence. However, it’s increasingly recognised as unhealthy for doctors to bottle up their emotions.
Unexpected tragic events
Psychiatry is a specialty in which doctors might view crying as acceptable, says Annabel Price, visiting researcher at the Department of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge, and a consultant in liaison psychiatry for older adults.
Having discussed the issue with colleagues before being interviewed for this article, she says that none of them would think less of a colleague for crying at work: “There are very few doctors who haven’t felt like crying at work now and again.”
A situation that may move psychiatrists to tears is finding that a patient they’ve been closely involved with has died by suicide. “This is often an unexpected tragic event: it’s very human to become upset, and sometimes it’s hard not to cry when you hear difficult news,” says Price.
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